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Keen Whisper Review

This wide, closed-toe model has decent traction but falls behind in the versatility and style categories
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Price:  $90 List | $49.95 at Amazon
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Pros:  Fits wide feet, good in and out of water, simple adjustment
Cons:  Bulky, weak heel strap, not stylish
Manufacturer:   Keen
By Joanna Trieger ⋅ Review Editor  ⋅  Jun 16, 2020
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52
OVERALL
SCORE


RANKED
#14 of 14
  • Comfort - 20% 6
  • Traction - 20% 6
  • Adjustability - 20% 5
  • Stability - 15% 5
  • Versatility - 15% 5
  • Style - 10% 3

Our Verdict

The KEEN Whisper is a close-toed model with a single elastic cord that serves to tighten the whole sandal. While this is a solid concept, it's not executed as well as it could be, and we found this model to be inferior to the KEEN Clearwater CNX, our Top Pick for Adventure Travel in most of the metrics we tested. The Whisper is wider than the Clearwater, and those with narrow or regular feet will find themselves sloshing around in them. Its heel strap has weak elastic and is not adjustable, so it's easy for the wearer's heel to slip off the back of the sandal. Finally, its distinct style is distinctly not for everyone, to the point that some of our testers are embarrassed to wear these out of the house. On the upside, those with wide feet will likely find themselves more comfortable in the Whisper than in the Clearwater, and it performs well in and out of the water, so it's a solid option for rafting or river hiking trips.

Compare to Similar Products

Our Analysis and Test Results

We added the KEEN Whisper to our test group to see how it stacks up against the competition, especially other KEEN models. After weeks of testing and direct comparison with other top models, we found the Whisper to be bulky, homely, and not great at keeping our foot in place. Those with wide feet may find this model adequate, but most everyone else should check some of the other options in our review.

Performance Comparison


Hiking in the Whisper is fairly comfortable  especially on the downhill stretches.
Hiking in the Whisper is fairly comfortable, especially on the downhill stretches.

Comfort


How comfortable the Whisper is will largely depend on your foot shape. This is a very wide sandal, significantly wider than its sister, the Clearwater CNX. Because of this, our narrow-footed lead tester had to crank down so hard on the elastic adjustment cord that the sandal's upper panel buckled and pressed into the top of her foot, which is very uncomfortable. Those with wider feet shouldn't experience this.

Other than the issue above, the materials on the Whisper are fairly comfortable against the skin, and we didn't experience any chafing or sore spots out of the box. Compared to most of our test group, this is a high-coverage sandal, and so it may make your feet hot, but it will provide much more airflow than a typical hiking shoe. The closed-toe box also made rock hopping and stream crossing much more comfortable, since you aren't in constant danger of mashing your toes.

The Whisper provides good airflow while still protecting toes from being stubbed. Narrow-footed wearers may find that they have to crank the straps down so tight that the sandal becomes uncomfortable.
The Whisper provides good airflow while still protecting toes from being stubbed. Narrow-footed wearers may find that they have to crank the straps down so tight that the sandal becomes uncomfortable.

Traction


The Whisper scores around the middle of the pack here. In general, it performs adequately on land and in water, and for those it fits (namely, those with wide feet), this will be a decent hiking or river-hopping option. However, compared to the stars of the test group, it has some downfalls. The lugs are fairly shallow and irregular, and they don't feel quite as grippy on any wet or dry surface as other options. The sole is also slightly stiff, which makes it less able to conform to contours or rocks on the trail.

Comparing the outsole lugs of the Whisper (left) and the Clearwater CNX (right).
Comparing the outsole lugs of the Whisper (left) and the Clearwater CNX (right).

The loose heel strap is also an issue for the Whisper in this category. The traction on the footbed is adequate, but not enough to keep the foot in place on its own, and the heel strap isn't helping. This issue only worsens when the footbed gets wet, so during river crossings, our heels slip off the back of the sandal.

The best way to compare sandals: one on each foot. During this literal side-by-side comparison  we found the Whisper (front foot  tan) to be slightly less grippy than the Clearwater (back foot  grey/blue).
The best way to compare sandals: one on each foot. During this literal side-by-side comparison, we found the Whisper (front foot, tan) to be slightly less grippy than the Clearwater (back foot, grey/blue).

Adjustability


Like other KEENs, the Whisper has a single piece of elastic cord woven through the top of all of its straps. Pull the cord, and all the straps get tighter. Loosen the toggle, and they all loosen. This is great if you crave simplicity and hate the thought of having to dial in a bunch of straps before you head out the door. It's not so great if you want a custom fit since no strap can be adjusted independently of the others. The toe box on this model is also really wide, so tightening the cord enough to bring the sandal anywhere near the sides of your toes means squeezing the life out of the insteps. This will be less of a problem for those with very wide feet, who are more likely to fill out the interior of the sandal.

Finally, the heel strap is elastic but not at all adjustable. This is a problem. The elastic isn't strong enough to keep the feet in place, which means the heels constantly slip back. Most of the other models we tested have adjustable heel straps, and this helps to dial in the fit of the sandal and keep your foot in place during technical pursuits.

Because the Whisper's heel strap is elastic and not adjustable  our heels easily slipped off the back of the footbed whenever we were walking uphill. The aggravation!
Because the Whisper's heel strap is elastic and not adjustable, our heels easily slipped off the back of the footbed whenever we were walking uphill. The aggravation!

Stability


The sole of the Whisper is molded and fairly thick while remaining flexible, and this gives a feeling of stability while on flat or downhill trails, even when the trails are rocky. However, the exceptional width of this sandal allows for side-to-side play, which makes footing feel less stable. Worse, the Whisper's heel strap is not adjustable and is far too loose, so our feet easily slipped off the back of the sandal when going uphill. This makes it feel goofy and unreliable. If you're set on a KEEN and have a narrow foot, the Clearwater CNX has a narrower footbed and a tighter (though still not adjustable) heel strap, and so feels more stable.

We felt fairly stable heading downhill over this rocky terrain. Going uphill is a different story due to the Whisper's loose heel strap. Notice the excessive length of the elastic strap as well.
We felt fairly stable heading downhill over this rocky terrain. Going uphill is a different story due to the Whisper's loose heel strap. Notice the excessive length of the elastic strap as well.

Versatility


For those with wide feet, the Whisper is fine for hiking, water sports, and light around-town use. However, we don't recommend this model to anyone for backpacking, since the heel strap issue is exacerbated by the weight of a backpack. This model is also tough to bike in due to its bulk, and the fact that there's nowhere sensible to stow the long elastic cord that flops around when the sandal is tightened. It's also not stylish enough to work with most outfits.

The Whisper works for a morning stroll to the dog park  but for much more technical or more stylish pursuits  we'd go with a different sandal.
The Whisper works for a morning stroll to the dog park, but for much more technical or more stylish pursuits, we'd go with a different sandal.

Style


The photos in this review will be your best guide to the style of the Whisper. What do you think? Would you be proud to sport these on the trail or in town?

You be the judge: cute or cringe-worthy?
You be the judge: cute or cringe-worthy?

If you're still unsure, we'll give you a little more context: our testers were not happy to wear these out of the house, since their bulky shape and floppy elastic cord turned a normal errand-running outfit into a clown costume. When we surveyed friends and family and asked them to rate the Whisper on a scale of 1 (full ugly) to 10 (super stylish), several respondents tried to break the system by giving this sandal a 0. But remember, confidence is the coolest accessory there is, so if you dig the look of the Whisper, then go forth and wear them with pride.

Value


We think the Whisper is a bit overpriced, given what it delivers. This model isn't as comfortable or adjustable as many others in our test group, and it's far less stylish. We're also very concerned that the already weak elastic in the heel strap could wear out completely after a season or less of rigorous use, which would render the sandal ineffective.

The Whisper (left) is bulkier in every way than the similarly-priced Clearwater (right). We found the Clearwater to be a better-performing sandal.
The Whisper (left) is bulkier in every way than the similarly-priced Clearwater (right). We found the Clearwater to be a better-performing sandal.

Conclusion


In spite of its name, the KEEN Whisper is a bulky, somewhat clumsy close-toed sandal that tightens on your foot by way of a single elastic cord. While this model provides decent traction and keeps the toes intact during river crossings, we're frustrated by its ineffective heel strap and turned off by its goofy style. If you have very wide feet and don't mind the look of the Whisper, this might be the sandal for you, but we think most wearers will be happier with something else.

Joanna Trieger